Book Review: Fixed – Global Fixed-Gear Bike Culture by Andrew Edwards & Max Leonard
(Laurence King) £17.95
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
Like surfing and skateboarding, there is an highly addictive and compulsive edge to fixed-gear (or ‘fixed-wheel’ in Britain) riding, often veering into the obsessional, as photographers and filmmakers Mike Martin and Gabe Morford interviewed in Fixed state, “track bikes are a gateway drug to all forms of cycling.” Martin and Morford’s documentary, Mash SF, explores the riding techniques, to say nothing of tricks and hill bombing, developed by 13 San Franciscans in the face of the challenge of riding track bikes without brakes, multiple gears, or the ability to freewheel, around the city, and since its release in 2007 has been highly influential in the global subculture which has grown up around the adoption of track bikes for urban streets. Fixed is the first book to examine both this rising subculture and its sporting and historical antecedents, and provides a fascinating overview.
Across three sections Racing, Track to Street, and Beyond Riding, Fixed explores the development of the fixed-gear style. The earliest bicycles were all fixed-wheel, but from the turn of the last century the style was predominantly reserved for sports use and has developed through ever greater quests for speed, characterised not least in recent years by Chris Hoy in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in the 1990s the duelling between, and radical designs employed by Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree, both of whom are interviewed in the book, to win the record for The Hour time trial. From the early 1970s a parallel street culture has developed, initially through the adoption of the style by bicycle messengers in New York, spreading to messengers in other cities worldwide through the 1980s and 1990s.
Whilst in recent years with fixed-gear becoming, as Edwards and Leonard write, a “wider phenomenon in urban culture, boutiques, and galleries,” designers, artists, and brands including Paul Smith, Ben and Oscar Wilson, Cinelli, Vans, and Nike, have created their own interpretations of fixed-gear bicycles and attendant clothing and accessory ranges.